NOV 05, 2019 2:39 PM PST

Single Exposure to CBD & THC Disrupts Embryonic Development

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

It only takes one incidence of cannabinoid exposure during the first month of pregnancy to yield detrimental effects on a developing embryo. New research raises concerns that just a single exposure to cannabinoids like CBD and THC could cause birth defects similar to those caused by fetal alcohol syndrome.

The digital marketplace is crowded with claims that boast cannabidiol (CBD) as a cure-all for everything from anxiety and depression to chronic pain. CBD is a main component of cannabis, and unlike its infamous cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it is not psychoactive. While one provides a “high” and one does not, both THC and CBD are cannabinoids (CBs), compounds important for functioning of the endocannabinoid system. Senior author of the new Scientific Reports study, Scott Parnell, PhD, is shining light on what science has yet to learn about these CBs.

"It is concerning how little we know about the use of marijuana, its CBs, and products like CBD oil during pregnancy," Parnell said. "We know that there is no safe period to drink alcohol during a pregnancy, and I think this research shows the same is likely true of marijuana use." In the new study, Parnell demonstrates - for the first time in mammals - a link between CB exposure and negative implications for early embryonic development.

The study focused on mice, which are reliable models of embryonic development in early pregnancy. Researchers gave mice varying amounts of CBs on the eighth day of pregnancy, the mouse version of the third and fourth weeks of human pregnancy. CBD concentrations were equivalent to a therapeutic range for humans, and THC concentrations were adjusted to reflect those of a human smoking marijuana.

In addition to studying the effect of CBs on early human development, researchers studied the effect of simultaneous exposure to both CBs and alcohol. When pregnant women are exposed to both at the same time, the chances of birth defects are more than twice as likely. Researchers find this particularly concerning, seeing that “previous studies have shown that CBs and alcohol are frequently used together.”

In addition to the trials done with mice subjects, Parnell’s team also tested synthetic cannabinoids in zebrafish. These studies showed that synthetic CBs “yielded similar growth formations as the natural CBs” in mice. “Having the same results across animal models reinforces our findings,” Parnell explained.

After connecting the dots between CBs and risk of birth defects, one question ultimately remains: what CB-directed physiological effects are causing the negative impact on development? Continued research will further elucidate the explanation, but Parnell’s team explains that CB exposure during pregnancy disrupts fundamental cellular processes and “signaling between molecules and cells that control growth and development.”

Parnell and his team are already planning follow-up studies to test the effect of multiple exposures to CBs and CBs paired with alcohol throughout pregnancy to mimic “real-life usage in human pregnancy.”

Sources: University of North Carolina School of Medicine

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 08, 2019
Health & Medicine
NOV 08, 2019
CDC Links Vitamin E Acetate to Vaping Illness
The actual cost of e-cigarette usage continues to reveal itself as reports of lung injury cases and deaths continue to rise. Scientists are diligently work...
DEC 20, 2019
Health & Medicine
DEC 20, 2019
Potential Link Between Cannabis Use and Structural Changes to the Heart
Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London used MRI images of more than 3,000 people, 152 of them former or current cannabis users, to identify a...
JAN 17, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 17, 2020
Next Big Thing For Cannabis Users: Sublingual Strips?
Aleafia Health signed an agreement with Kinstate, Inc. allowing the company to manufacture, market, and sell Kin Slips and the technology behind these cann...
FEB 25, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
FEB 25, 2020
State to State: Reciprocity for Marijuana Cards Proves Challenging
When a person receives a medical marijuana card, are they good to go, anywhere in the U.S.? No -- it turns out, it can be hard to access medical cannabis o...
FEB 28, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
FEB 28, 2020
Vaping Harms Microbiome, Increases Infection and Inflammation
Researchers have found that vaping e-cigarettes may change the composition of the mouth’s microbiome, something that leads to higher risks of inflamm...
MAR 28, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAR 28, 2020
Over 90% Cannabis Products Too High for Pain Relief
New research has found that the vast majority of legal cannabis products across the US are stronger than necessary for pain relief. Although many may inter...
Loading Comments...